I’ve had Miss Billy’s Decision on my shelf since 2003, picked up in an antique shop simply because it was written by the author of Pollyanna. However, I have never gotten around to reading it! With the help of Goodreads, I discovered that this is actually the second book about Miss Billy, so I was able to purchase the first book, Miss Billy, on eBay inexpensively, and a Kindle version of book three (Miss Billy Married), as hard copies of that one were pushing the $30 range. (!)
All in all, this was was a pleasant collection, but nothing amazing, mostly because Billy wasn’t a super engaging heroine, and Porter did not do a particularly good job with story crafting – the characters just sort of mill around, especially in Miss Billy.
The story opens with Billy’s aunt dying, leaving her alone in the world. At age 18, it seemed to me like she should have been able to find a companion and live quietly until her majority at 21 (keeping in mind that these books were published in the early 1900’s), but instead Billy writes to a man she’s never met – a good friend of her father’s, for whom she was named. William, a widower, lives in a rambling house with his bachelor brothers, Cyril and Bertram. Each of the brothers has an odd quirk. Cyril is a monk-like man devoted to his music (specifically piano). William, since the death of his wife and infant son, focuses on collecting things. Bertram is an artist famous for painting portraits of young women – ‘The Face of a Girl’.
Through a series of events, when the gentlemen receive Billy’s letter, they do not realize that she is female, and have no real idea how old she is. They reluctantly agree to take in the waif, since she is, after all, named for William, but when Billy arrives in all her feminine glory, they are cast into disarray! Of course, it turns out that Billy makes all of their lives brighter and better. William finds an older female cousin to come live with them and be Billy’s companion/chaperone and everyone is getting along famously until William’s sister Kate (married and in her own house) tells Billy that the brothers used to be super happy until Billy moved in and threw off everyone’s groove. Devastated, Billy takes Aunt Hannah and moves back to her home town.
The reason that the story was strange was because, first off, Kate is a jerk. Throughout the next two books, she is the center of all mischief and miscommunications as she is incredibly meddlesome. Kate’s interference with everything got a bit old after a while, especially since she was absolutely never apologetic, even when she wrecked havoc all around.
Secondly, Billy only lives with the brother for a couple of months. During that time, her characters comes across more as someone who is 11 or 12, not 18. She bounds through the house, is boisterous and enthusiastic, and doesn’t really do anything useful. When she leaves with Aunt Hannah, she doesn’t really explain to the brothers that she isn’t planning to come back, and they spend the rest of the book being incredibly mopey and depressed, and years go by and they only see her a handful of times, as Billy takes off for Europe. The amount of sadness and loneliness they feel seems incredibly disproportionate to the amount of time Billy actually lived with them.
The second book is all about Billy deciding which brother to marry, of course. It’s pretty obvious which one she loves, but Kate comes in with her interfering ways and almost ruins everyone’s lives, and then continues to complain, throughout the rest of that book and well into book 3, that Billy chose the wrong brother and that their marriage will never be successful because Billy didn’t take Kate’s advice and marry the brother Kate thought she suited! I mean, a bit of sisterly advice is one thing, but Kate’s nagging was ridiculous.
Overall, though, the second book was probably my favorite. It had the most story and the characters were better developed.
In book three, Billy starts her married life and is quite happy, until she starts listening to other people/books/articles/etc. This book followed a pattern that got old after a while, wherein Billy latches onto some quirky bit of advice and then follows it obsessively. E.g., she reads an article that says that young wives need to let their husbands basically ‘do their own thing’ and wives should continue to follow their own personal interests as well. This advice made perfect sense, but Billy takes it to extremes by acting completely indifferent towards her husband (all while internally sighing at how much she misses him) and kind of blowing him off all the time, leaving him confused by a wife who no longer seems interested in spending time with him. Of course, they always resolve things and are happy again – until the next time someone gives Billy some advice.
Then the baby is born, and the book took a decided turn for the worse. I genuinely wanted to shake Billy, who became obsessed with the baby, completely ignoring her husband. Constantly reading books on child-rearing, she insists on doing everything by the book and on the clock, with the baby receiving specifically allotted amounts of time for napping, playing, etc. It was fine at first, but this dragged on for SO long. What I really couldn’t believe was that Aunt Hannah didn’t step in and give Billy the talking-to she really needed.
In the end, I still wasn’t completely convinced that Billy had grasped the concept of balance. While everything seemed to be going well when the story ended, I could definitely see Billy reading some other article and becoming just as annoying as ever.
These were perfectly fine and enjoyable books, with some delightful bits here and there. But I just never really liked Billy all that well – she never felt like a very real person – and her tendency to obsess over one thing and really agonize over it got old for me. A 3/5 for this little series, but it probably isn’t one I’ll reread.